Roman Hawker glanced furtively down Broadway, scanning from left to right. The air was crisp, biting at his exposed cheeks, and his breath came out in dense blasts of vapor that slowly expanded and disappeared into the night. Disappearing without a trace, the same way he and his friends would need to.
If they didn't, NYPD squad cars would appear from every angle. Their sirens would come blaring, lights blinding, and tires screaming down the New York City streets at him. They would be coming for him, chasing him down. He and his friends would finally be caught and there would be no hiding their secrets any longer.
But for the moment, Roman remained confident that they would escape. His white earbuds reported only silence, which meant that everything was going according to his plan. He was nonetheless wary. It was his responsibility to be cautious, and he had to consider every possibility. If he had miscalculated any small detail, he would surely get caught. So would his closest friends. He looked across the street to see that Bryce was still inside the bank vestibule, finishing up.
The steady flow of rush hour commuters on foot was starting to diminish. Cars and taxis buzzed by constantly, but the traffic allowed just enough room to bike around. Hope and Burton would be seeing the same conditions over on the Upper East Side of Manhattan on Lexington.
He shook away a sudden chill. It was cold, even for New York in February. But the temperature justified the hoodies, thicker jackets, winter hats, and scarves over their faces. All the extra layering helped cover any major features that could identify them. There were thousands of surveillance cameras that canvassed Manhattan. It was impossible to avoid all of them, but any trace of their faces, heavily covered, on the footage would be useless to identify them.
Bryce exited the vestibule and made a sharp turn uptown. He touched his hand to the top of his head indicating that all was well and that he was ready for the next stop. His messenger bag was starting to look filled to its capacity. Bryce stopped at his bike, which was chained to a parking sign post.
He clicked a small pendant that was hanging from his neck and the lock on the bike snapped open. It was a nice little gadget Reggie had put together. He jumped on the bike and headed to the next waypoint. Roman kept to his side of the avenue and rode his own bike in parallel with Bryce.
"How many more we got?" Bryce asked into his earbud's in-line microphone.
"Just two more for us," Roman replied just before a muffled female voice came over the police scanner. There was an alert for a rabid dog that was loose on 11th Street and 8th Avenue. They were far enough uptown that they didn't risk running into any uniforms looking for the dog.
Good thing, because right now, a bump into any cop would be incredibly risky. The crew didn't fit any typical criminal profiles, but strapped to their backs were over-sized sling bags. Any uniformed officer would consider stopping them for a quick peek inside. Stop and frisk was no longer in full effect, but New York City's Finest maintained a perpetual high alert for anything suspicious.
"We're on 89th," Burton's voice came in.
The five of them were communicating over a conference call system Reggie had set up on an anonymous server. With the right tech, any governmental agency could easily figure out how they communicated. Lucky for them, they had Reggie. He made sure there was nothing that could be traced to them. The credit card and identity that set up the server space were both counterfeit. The same alias had signed up for a prepaid SIM card, and the burner phones had been purchased using cash from a bodega in Queens.
The next stop would be their eleventh. This part of the score was going quickly, considering they started only three hours ago.
"I gotta admit, this is a good workout," Bryce said as he slowed his approach to 96th Street. "Let's hurry this up. We need to have enough time for a drink afterwards. It's a school night for me."
"No one told you to have a nine to five," Roman said.
"Sue me for wanting to be an honest contributor to society."
"I think I could use a few drinks," Hope's voice came in. "We're on our second to last."
"How does the grid look?" Roman asked, implying this question to Reggie. He was monitoring all the governmental network traffic for any spikes in activity. If any occurred, he would be able to dig deeper and see if it was related to what they were doing.
"Everything lekker, baas," Reggie responded. His Afrikaan--erisms came out when he was tired.
"What did you say?" Burton was partially joking, mostly annoyed. "Speak English, man!"
"Ag, don't get your broekies in a knot."
Things were going smoothly, but just about fifty hours of unabated stress were starting to take their toll. The adrenaline had ebbed, but Roman could still feel the high. He lived for moments like this, when the risks were immeasurable and the pressure was on. It was like a drug. In between jobs, the withdrawals would come, and he'd be back like an addict, plotting their next hit.
Bryce stood next to his bike as it leaned against a thin tree coming out of a small dirt section of the sidewalk. Roman dismounted his bike and locked it on his side of the street on some scaffolding. It looked like it had been there for years. Two graffiti-filled security gates protected a nail salon on one side and a barber shop on the other. Between them was a secured glass vestibule that had three bank ATM machines inside. It was well-lit and looked like it would be a safe place to pull out some money.
Roman looked to his left and right. All was quiet. There was only a homeless person, rolled up in layers of besmirched sleeping bags. He was of no concern, dozing under the far end of some scaffolding. Roman walked up to the glass door and pulled out a white plastic card with a magnetic strip. He pushed it into the slotted scanner next to the door. A small red light turned green and then a magnetic door lock released with an audible thump.
With a deep breath, he walked in. The door thudded as the magnetic lock reengaged. Without any hesitation, he walked over to the farthest ATM on the left.
He searched on the left hand side of the bezel for a metal engraved label. "I am at 0-9-8-6-5-3-7," he read as clearly as he could.
"Madder," Reggie replied excitedly.
Thirty seconds later, the ATM's screen flashed and then went to a black screen with white text. It indicated that it was entering maintenance mode and asked to enter a passcode with a blinking cursor. Roman readied his gloved hand over the machine's keypad.
"Passcode is 9-5-0-6," Reggie said as Roman typed.
He pressed enter and the screen began scrolling text. The machine relayed that it was running its maintenance protocols.
Reggie's voice spoke slowly, multitasking as he always did. "Be ready. Feed test will begin in 5-4..."
Roman held both his hands in an open claw position over the cash dispenser door.
"…2-1." The dispenser door slid open and sounds started coming from the machine's inner mechanisms. After only a few seconds, money dispensed out in neat stacks. They came through the teeth and rollers and then into Roman's ready hands. He let the green bills fall freely, adjusting his thumbs as the stack in his hands grew.
The machine stopped when the stack was nearly six inches thick. With a quick calculation, Roman knew he held close to twenty thousand dollars in twenty dollar bills. He could feel the crispness of the cash, warm from the dispenser, between his fingers. The first few times he had done this, it was exciting and he had held his breath. At this point, it was tedious to wait.
As soon as he was positive the machine was done, Roman held the bills tightly and forced them through a hidden slit on the side of his bag.
He then went to the next machine. He paused as he heard Hope on the line, doing the same procedure with Reggie. After she was done, he read his new machine's number out to Reggie and continued the process. The second machine went quickly, and then the third. As soon as he stuffed the last stack of cash into his bag, he turned and exited the vestibule.
Bryce was already on his bike across the street. Roman tapped the top of his head and went for his bike. He unlocked it with the pendant and mounted the seat.
"Last stop," he said out loud to everyone on the line.
They both rode into the uptown night to finish the job.